Sunday, November 4, 2007

Playoff Preview

So as this new chapter of this season of the USCL is about to get underway (ie the playoffs), it’s once again time for me to try to give everyone some insight into what I think might take place. Despite the fact that more than a few of my previous predictions have been ridiculed by some (even by myself, as evidenced by my need to apologize to a team for one such terrible prediction), I feel the need to point out the fair accuracy of my preseason predictions (having five of six playoff teams correct and in the West where I had the finishing order of the teams nearly exactly correct). So it may be that I actually do have some idea of what might happen (or I could just be a lucky idiot) and thus here goes.


Wildcard: Philadelphia vs New York

This is a tricky matchup. In one sense, everything seems to favor Philadelphia as they had the better regular season record, swept the season series between these two teams, and have draw odds in the upcoming match. But of course things are just never that simple in the USCL as more than one time teams have overcome similar such seeming inequities (Miami’s upset of San Francisco in the 2005 Semifinals, and New York’s upset of Boston in the 2006 Semifinals just to name a couple). Based on pure statistics (ie ratings) New York is unquestionably the stronger team though, and the Knights really have momentum on their side as they seemed to be incredible long shots to even make the postseason but ended on a 4 – 1 run to make it. GM Hikaru Nakamura has been tearing up Europe the past few weeks which has caused him to miss the last two weeks of the regular season, but fortunately his team was able to qualify without him, and now I'm sure they hope he is back from Europe and ready to play. As for lineups, I would definitely expect New York to use Nakamura on Board 1 (if he's available) and Zenyuk on Board 4 with Boards 2 and 3 being a bit more unclear as I could see them using any of these combinations: Charbonneau + Bonin, Krush + Hess, or Krush + Bonin while Philadelphia I’m almost sure will use Kudrin + Smith + Costigan with the only uncertainty whether they use Wilson or Yeager on 4. Whichever choices the teams make in this regard, I think Philadelphia clearly has to have an edge based on their sweeping the season series plus the draw odds. I’m not willing to make it a very large one based on New York’s resilience and current momentum though. Philadelphia advances 55%.

Semifinals: Boston vs Philadelphia/New York

Boston seems like a team which is a bit easier to nail down as to what lineup they might happen to use based on the amount each player has played in the regular season. I would definitely expect to see Christiansen on 1, Shmelov on 3, and Williams on 4 with the only main question being whether Perelshteyn or Sammour-Hasbun ends up manning 2. Whichever choice they make there though if they are up against Philadelphia I definitely like their chances as they seem to match up well against Philadelphia’s lineups (as evidenced by their sweeping the season series) whereas against New York it seems very close to even on all boards. Boston does have draw odds on their side though whichever team they happen to play so my guess would be: Boston advances against Philadelphia 70%, and Boston advances against New York 60%.

So based on those estimations, each team’s chances to make the finals from the East are about:

Boston: 65%

New York: 18%

Philadelphia: 17%


Wildcard: Miami vs San Francisco

Unlike the Wildcard in the other Division, in this one, the winner of the season series was the lower ranked team as Miami won the only regular season meeting between these two. This match I’m sure will have several of the Mechanics players thinking back to the tough defeat they suffered in this same situation back in the 2005 Semifinals as there are more than a few players still on both teams who took part in that battle. As for lineups, for Miami I’m fairly certain they will use Becerra on 1 and Barredo on 4, but 2 and 3 are a little unclear as I could see them using any combination of Lugo, Martinez, Moreno Roman, and Espino. San Francisco is equally unclear as other than them using Bhat on 2, to me nothing else is really certain as I could see Wolff or Friedel manning 1, Zilberstein, Pruess, or Donaldson manning 3, and Naroditsky or Young manning 4. Whatever happens though, I think Miami will have a definite edge on 1 (Becerra with White) while I prefer the Mechanics on 2 and 3 with 4 being close. With draw odds, San Francisco advances 67% here.

Semifinals: Dallas vs San Francisco/Miami

If Dallas has any weakness it may be that their lineup for this match might be a bit easier to guess than their opponents’ as I would be rather surprised if they didn’t show up bearing Boskovic + Kuljasevic + Stopa + Zorigt. Although Bartholomew is certainly capable of filling one of the top two spots if needed, given Boskovic handled the top board nine times out of ten in the regular season and that Kuljasevic is really the unsung hero of the Dallas team this season with his 5.5/6 record, this lineup seems
by far the most likely. Should the Destiny take on the Sharks, I forsee a matchup very similar to Miami’s in the Wildcard, one where the Sharks are favored on 1 but underdogs on 2 and 3 with 4 being unclear. On the other hand, should the Destiny take on the Mechanics, like the other potential Semifinal (Boston vs New York), it seems likely to be a match where neither side has much of an edge anywhere, but I must take note that in that near exact situation in the regular season finale, the Mechanics triumphed. However, having draw odds from the start is a far different situation psychologically and based on all the factors I think Dallas advances against Miami 67%, and Dallas advances against San Francisco 58%.

So each teams’ approximate chances to be in the Finals from the West are:

Dallas: 61%

San Francisco: 28%

Miami: 11%


Now of course it’s rather difficult for me to make any predictions about what might happen here (given that I, you know, don’t even know which teams will be playing in the Finals) so I’ll just leave you with some estimations of what I think each team’s chances of winning the League at this point are.

Boston: 34%

Dallas: 28%

San Francisco: 16%

New York: 11%

Philadelphia: 7%

Miami: 4%


Vishank said...

come on arun, at least give 25% to the mechanics!they beat dallas!

Sam Shankland said...

I agree with option B: Arun is a lucky idiot :) (jkjk)

Eli Vovsha said...

One is pretty lucky to be born smart...but even smarter to be born lucky!

HA81 said...

Quite an interesting take on the playoffs, well thought out. Still, I feel you have missed some points that are of a critical nature.

First off, the playoffs are all about matchups. Yes, draw odds give one team a huge advantage and to be quite frank I would hope that the USCL could find some way to eliminate the draw odds advantage. Still, all these players are big boys (or girls) and can figure out what is necessary. The Philly – NY matchup looked like it was going to be one of those rare cases where the “lower” ranked team was the heavy favorite, as long as New York played Nakamura and Charbonneau. No offense, but Krush has been second board for both of New York’s losses to Philly and it just doesn’t appear that she is likely to win a game on board two against Bryan Smith. Putting Bonin in for Hess was probably on the right track, but I don’t think that the Knights will get enough on the white boards (2 and 4) to win the match and their subs (Nakamura and Bonin) are having the black pieces. I think that NY has made a mistake, of course if they do get by the Inventors things change a lot. If New York faces Boston in the East finals and play Nakamura/Charbonneau they are at least a 50/50 proposition to win the match. Why? Well, the Knights like playing with Nakamura on first board and Boston seems to have a problem with Charbonneau on any board.

Second, in the wildcard round in the West Miami has a great deal more to deal with than indicated. Looking at the lineups it is pretty obvious what was going through the mind of each team manager. Miami, needing to win, read one of my earlier posts and followed the advice. They put all their eggs in the basket of winning on boards 1, 3 and 4. Again I mean no disrespect, but facing Bhat on board 2 is a daunting task and faced with that situation you should look to get the best players you can on the other 3 boards. So, they found a way to bump Martinez down to 3 and have Barredo on 4 to go with Becerra. The Mechanics thought ahead and decided to put Zilberstein on third board, as he had drawn earlier with black against Martinez, and Wolff on 1st board to have a chance of scoring there. This is all fine and good, we can easily see the match at 1 ½ each on the top 3 boards and Miami thinking that their chances are in Barredo’s hands after he had won the crucial last game versus Seattle the week before. Here is what they (Miami) and you (Arun) didn’t think of, the Mechanics have a team coach and trainer for just such eventualities. My hunch is that Young will be way more than ready for this game and getting a draw will not be an issue. So, SF advances to face the Destiny. Here again I think that you are not fully aware of the team Dallas is facing. Yes, the Dallas lineup will be easy to predict, consequently easy for the Mechanics “man behind the curtain” to draw up plans for. This match will be close, but with the Destiny’s inconsistency on board 1 to go along with Bhat and the “team” San Fran is the choice.

Of course, this is all speculation and we are now looking at 3 weeks into the future. There is no substitute for “playing the games” where heroes are made by doing the unexpected. That is what makes this all so fun!!

Arun Sharma said...

Thanks for the input HA81. Let me address a few your points:

(1) "Eliminate Draw Odds Advantage?" I personally feel that Draw Odds are a great thing, they are what really make every regular season match so important and without an incentive like that for the playoffs, a team's inclination to put forth their best effort after clinching a postseason spot would be severely limited.

(2) "Krush doesn't appear she is likely to win a game on board two?" I don't understand that at all. Ok so she happened to lose the last game she played in this analagous situation, but she had a forced draw there on more than one occasion and likely went a bit overboard trying to win simply because they had already lost on Board One. Smith has been playing better recently no doubt, but I still think Krush is a pretty reasonable favorite with the White pieces, and I'm not prepared to change that belief based on one recent game. As for Board 4, Zenyuk won in this situation last time so I don't see why New York would necessarily fail to get enough on the White boards to enable them to win the match.

(3) "New York is 50/50 to win vs. Boston?" I don't quite agree with this. While I do agree that New York is probably the biggest threat to Boston (as evidenced by a couple of Boston players cheering on New Jersey during the last week of the regular season), Boston is still an incredibly strong team: should they choose to use Christiansen, Sammour-Hasbun, Shmelov, and Williams, the former three have not lost a game this season (with Sammour and Shmelov both having +4 scores), and Williams has a +3 score. How can they not be favored with draw odds? Of course this is all pretty much a matter of opinion and as they say that's why they'll play the games so time will tell.

(4) As for the West, I agree facing Bhat on Board Two (especially when he has White) is a fairly daunting task, but I'm not sure facing Becerra with White is any less of one and with Boards 3 and 4 being unclear to me, I think my estimate of the Sharks chances in the Wildcard aren't unreasonable. As for the Dallas match, you once again mention Bhat as being a big trump (which he certainly is), but what about the two Dallas trumps, Kuljasevic and Stopa? Kuljasevic actually defeated Bhat this season and has a 5.5/6 record as I mentioned in my article, and Stopa, aside from his 3-0-1 record this season, was an All Star on Board 2 last year. Once again, based on those factors I don't see how Dallas can't have an edge with draw odds.

But as you said, it's all pretty much speculation so we shall see!

Vishank said...

go sf!!!!!!!!!!!!

HA81 said...

If I ever figure out when to press the "publish your comment" button the whole thing will be worthless. Anyway, it's great to have sparkling repartee about issues of nothing great or important. Isn't life wonderful.

Draw odds are ok, for the wildcard round. For a team to only have to "draw" one match to get to the finals is a bit much. A team winning their division has to only play one match to get to the finals, it seems to me that should have to win it. I agree that draw odds gives a little more incentive to regular season matches, but getting a bye and then draw odds is too much.

Krush is a good player, better than me, but I don't think she is correct for a must win playoff match. In this case New York has to do everything possible to beat Philly and I think Charbonneau is a better bet in that regard. The only thing I haven't checked is what ramifications that would have rating wise on lower boards, that might be where the Knights decided to put her in.

New York would be 50/50 to beat Boston, let me be clear that Boston has a very strong team, stronger than me (oh, said that already). The thing is the effect between the ears for both teams. New York feels they will win with Nakamura on first board and Boston isn't sure they can win if Charbonneau plays. The joke earlier in the season about a "Canadian rodent killer" or some such shows that they are thinking about it. I might have overstated at 50/50, but I think it would be closer to my percentage than yours.

San Francisco, should they beat Miami (I feel like it is a foregone conclusion, but they do play the games) will have a huge advantage in both of its West division playoff matches. "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain" to be clear. I don't know, aren't you in the Bay area Arun? I always thought it was pretty certain that the Mechanics were based on the old Soviet model of 3 very good players doing the training and research for each team member playing? I could be wrong, but that is what I am going on. The Mechanics would have to beat Dallas; with the Destiny inconsistent play on board 1 the Mechanics look to win there most likely with White, boards 2 and 3 SF can match IM's with Dallas, the Destiny big advantage is on board 4 and the wizard will have preped the SF board 4. That's my case.

Arun Sharma said...

Reasonable theories once again though I must maintain what I believe the %'s to be in my original article. Of course the only way to be sure who's actually right would be to have them play a few hundred matches and tally the overall score, and that's obviously not going to happen. But like you said I think it's good to have debates about these types of issues, of course it's largely a matter of opinion so people aren't going to agree (just as your team didn't with my preseason prediction). I guess we'll have to wait and see!

vishank said...

ha81, i think you are wrong about not having draw odds in the finals.
I mean, if a team has won the division(kind of hard to do),i think they should get a break and not let their accomplishment count for nothing!thats what i think.

Arun Sharma said...

I understand his point, honestly during the first year of the league when we had only two teams in each division making the playoffs and the higher one got draw odds, it seemed like a virtually perfect system. I agree that a team getting a bye + draw odds in the Semis might be too much (like most things of course that's a matter of opinion though).

Hopefully though, if all goes according to plan, next season when we expand again and four teams from each division make the postseason and 1 plays vs. 4 and 2 vs. 3 in the first round of the playoffs, no team will be getting an excessive edge.

Rich in Phoenix said...

From a Patzer in Phoenix:

My humble prediction for the Semi-Finals is New York to win, then the Mechanics to win. (East Coast vs West Coast in Finals!)

Now, start pushing those Passed pawns!

Rich in Phoenix

Greg Shahade said...

Rich, your chances don't look so good since the Mechanics already have been eliminated by Miami.

Rich in Phoenix said...

Hey Greg, the HOT sun in Phoenix has gotten to me - we're still doing 90 degree temps in November!

You're right, now that I splashed some cold water on my head, I am predicting it'll be Dallas and New York in the finals. The destined wizards from the Lone Star State and the silver knights from the Empire State!

Vishank said...

Rich, New York was eliminated yesterday, your original prediction was completely wrong! still hot in Arizona, it is in sf too. what do you think about the Dallas vs. Miami match? Vishank